jetsetgreen

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why You Should Have a Mormon Friend: Polygamy Edition

Alright kids, let's talk about the elephant in the room: polygamy. If there's one thing Mormons love it's having to explain how we don't practice polygamy anymore. Oh wait, we don't like that.

See, it's been more than a hundred years since we gave up the practice. Some Mormons who wanted to keep on with the plural wiving decided that they'd rather leave the church than stay in it; they went off and lived by themselves, free to wear long, unflattering dresses and 1940s hair.

Did you catch that, Buster? Mormons aren't polygamists, and the people that are polygamists aren't Mormons.

100 years man, it's enough time to let it go. Most Mormons are too nice to tell you that the jokes are too tired to be funny; we'll give you a chuckle and the whole eye-brow raising that means "good one, man" without giving you the full-on LOL (which you will never get, so stop trying.)

Secretly, it's exhausting having to explain that our dads only have one wife. No really. Seriously. I would know. PROMISE. No matter where a Mormon travels, say, just to pick an example, the gas station two blocks down from Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida, they're just waiting for The Question.
"Utah, huh?"
"Yup."
"How many wives does your husband have."
"Just me."
"How many wives does your dad have?"
"Just my mom."
"No, he doesn't."
"Yes, he does."
"No, he doesn't." You get the picture. I don't know if there's a sillier time than having to explain to the cashier while she's checking your license that you do know the marital status of the people in your family, and it's all one-to-one. It's even more awesome when they don't believe you. Lady, I'd know.

Not only do we have to defend ourselves from the ridicule of the remainder of Christianity, but a big secret is that WE have a ton of mixed feelings about polygamy. I've seen girlfriends of mine start flashing their eyes, smoke coming out of ears, fists clenching when the topic arises. I've seen dudes take a big gulp at the terrifying thought. We're not all waiting for the day when we can be polygamists again, swear. Just ask your Mormon friend (as soon as you get one.)

But.

But.

For those of us who do have great-great-grandpas and grandmas who were polygamists way back, we have some awesome stories to tell: Mexican weddings, first wife drama, multiple households, the Edmunds-Tucker Act, we've got some doozies. If you know a Mormon from the Western U.S., chances are they've seen a polygamist in their natural habitat (on their way to the Wal-Mart.) That's why you want a Mormon friend: we can give you the straight dope on polygamy, tell you about the time we saw a polygamist, and share with you our feelings about that whole...thing, and we'll talk about it honestly because we don't practice it anymore.



**Now with classic polygamy game in comments!



As for the Big Love thing, most Mormons don't watch the show. First of all it's on HBO, which you have to pay more for, and Mormons hate paying more for anything, especially TV. Second, it's a little too close to home, right? A significant portion of our interactions with non-Mormons are convincing them that REALLY MY DAD HAS ONE WIFE, and that show isn't helping. Yes, the show tries to clarify that the characters aren't actually Mormons, but there are enough people out there that don't understand those stipulations and are a whole heap-a-mess of confused. We won't talk about the other Big Love issues because that makes us stabby (in a nice way.)

61 comments:

La Yen said...

When I have to talk about the plygs in my famdamily my horns get a little achy.

Also, I had to tell the missionaries out here that those are NOT plygs in the local WalMart, but Mennonites from Chihuahua. Sheesh.

Patti said...

HA. La Yen made a horn joke. Awesome.

My favorite thing is when someone says, "Yes they WERE Mormons. I saw them on Oprah."

the emily said...

My mom's youngest sister came to live with my parents right after they were married (she was 11). Some friends of mine in the ward saw the family picture from a few years later. My parents had two small children and my aunt was 18. My friend looked at me kind of funny (my dad was in the bishopric) and goes, "Your dad was a polygamist?!" Hi-larious.

jennie w. said...

There's only one thing wrong with this post: those Polygs in Utah/Nevada have total 80's hair (but minus the perms). Those crazy poufs and stand-up bangs! Egads!

Lauren Hong said...

Well said. I completely agree.

Andrea said...

I love you Azucar, and every time you write something awesome like this, I love you more.

Annie said...

Yep, you nailed it. I think next time I get the wow-I've-never-heard-that-Mormon-wives-joke-before (eyeroll), I'll just give them this URL.

Tiffany said...

I'm standing up, giving you the slow clap. Well done, Azucar. On behalf of non-Utah Mormons, I thank you.

Emily said...

I'm with Tiffany. Bravo. And I love La Yen's use of "famdamily"--I haven't heard that one in a while!

Becky said...

A-freaking-men!

Bravo! Encore!

Jean said...

Thank you Azucar!

It gets even better when you have a REAL-LIFE aunt (and subsequently, cousins) who decided polygamy is the way to go. And when they come to family reunions everything is super awkward.

noelle said...

i can't stop chuckling. nice work.

Kerry said...

my husband works for the cable company and we get free cable, so we do watch Big Love. And, you're right, it hits WAY too close to home sometimes. (Though, it's much more entertaining when it's totally OFF.)

One time, me and my sister (who was Miss Provo)(for reals) were watching Big Love in my West Jordan house. Then, on the show, they said, "Let's hear from the senator from West Jordan!" and my sister laughed and laughed. "hahahaha that's *your* senator."

and right as she was laughing, they said, "And NOW we're going to hear from Miss Provo!"

and we both just looked at each other and said dude. we have got to stop watching this show cuz it's creeping us out.

Hilary said...

It drove me insane that people would do that when we first moved here. Like I was just super nieve. Finally one day I lost it, "MY DAD WAS A STAKE PRESIDENT AND A FREAKING VICE PRESIDENT AT BYU, I THINK I WOULD KNOW IF PEOPLE WERE PRACTICING POLYGAMY, beause -- I don't wear jeans under my dresses. :)"
Buggers.

~j. said...

Grown-up twins!

KC Mom said...

I'll just send the Mormon doubters to your blog now...
I think you done good splainin' it.

Queen Baby said...

I once got reamed for big love because my employer's husband loved the show. Yeah, it infuriated her and she started spouting scriptures to me that stated how wrong it was. I think just maybe she was mad at her husband, not me. Oh and it was also in a southern state. Just so you know, most churches there preach againt the Mormon church. It is FUN to live there. Oh and I am related to Brigham Young, and I would tell people that if they asked if any of my relatives had practiced. hehe

lunablue said...

"Mixed" feelings? It's a No. Yes, there's faith and line upon line and explanations and sacrifice, I get it all, but... it's a No. Period. It's my choice, too! And anyone who thinks they are explaining it... I'm not convinced anyone but God REALLY gets why that was cool once. Seriously, I've had a neighbor fudge that if polygamy was still accepted he'd do it, simply because he has the means to support some of the poor widows in the ward he has noticed, I've had a roommate say we, Mormons, still are polygamists, or still believe in it, because... Elder Oaks has had two marriage sealings, and someone told her in institute it's the same with God... ..um, WE DON'T BELIEVE IN IT! WE DON'T DO IT! YOU GET KICKED OUT! IT'S CONSIDERED A MAJOR MAJOR SIN! We like monogamy... ok????!? *sigh*

Cafe Johnsonia said...

Well, I'm giving you a big LOL. 'Cause I'm still laughing.

Azúcar said...

Queen Baby, any granddaughter of Brigham Young is a cousin of mine...because...that's one thing polygamy did very, very well: lots of cousins, for everyone!

Now those of you who aren't Mormon get to watch this classic descendants of polygamy game:

Brigham Young? Which wife? I'm from Mary Anne Angell.

Stepper the Mighty said...

Bless their obedient hearts, but I'm willing to bet that those who did practice didn't think it was all that cool, either. I mean, can you IMAGINE?

I was unaware of the Wal Mart phenomenon. I kinda avoid Wal Marts at all cost. Now I'm tempted to stake one out.

Stepper the Mighty said...

I want to play!

I'm a descendant of Briham Young's wife Zinah Diantha Huntington Young.

She was cool.

Queen Baby said...

Oh fun game. Harriett Cook.

Hailey said...

One of my favorite historical family photographs is of my great-great-great grandfather and some of his brothers and friends wearing black and white striped prison uniforms and smiling for the camera. They were in for being polygamists, of course, and I know which wife I'm descended from! I used to think all Mormons had polygamist ancestors but I'm finding that I'm actually kind of the exception and not the rule. It's fascinating to me, but yeah, people today are idiots.

La Yen said...

Oh, Stepper, the plygs at YOUR WalMart are probably plygs. But mine are here in North Mexico and are Mennonites. 9They make the BEST cheese.)

ali said...

oh, I don't know. Polygamy doesn't sound all that bad to me actually. Having a BFF around all the time to help you take care of the kids while the Husband works...

"Hey--can you watch the kids while I go to the store really quickly?"

That sort of thing. Of course maybe those of us who's husbands travel all the time have different perspectives...

Amy said...

It's different for me because I am not from Utah and do not have any pioneer ancestors. That means, here in the south, I get the question A LOT along with being asked where my horns are...were they shaved? And I live 45 mins south of busch gardens, so tell me who the fool was and I'll go slap them. just for you.

JMadd said...

The Plygs are alive and well at the Springville WalMart. Except it's always just 2-3 wives and about a dozen kids at the store. Where's the husband?

Emily said...

I have no idea who you are, but my cuz linked to you from fb. Well put! Too funny! I volunteer at This Is the Place in SLC and, of course, dress up like a Pioneer. I've heard some volunteers/employees get asked which # wife they are!! Hello people! We're just dressed up -- we don't live there -- not the real thing -- and our clothes are waaaaay cuter than those modern-day polygs!

Andrea said...

Parley P. Pratt is my 3rd great grandfather, and whenever someone asks me which wife my line comes through, I always say, "The pretty one."

:)

Lindsey Johnson said...

I'm a descendant of Christopher Layton, and therefore related to several bloggers we all know and love. (I wouldn't want to name drop like those of you who are related to BY. Ahem.)

My husband comes from Joseph Ellis Johnson. The last son of the last wife. I'm not sure how many he had, but the story is that the Johnson family from JEJ is the largest in the LDS church.

(I have jokingly said I want a sister-wife. But I think what I really meant was that I wanted a housekeeper/nanny.)

Likely said...

Believe it or not, a friend of mine (not Mormon) once said when we were talking about the church that one thing she thought made sense was polygamy.

come again?

Then she went on to say how she would love to have a few other women around during the day -- one to cook, one to clean, one to change diapers. She even said she wouldn't mind rotating nights to sleep with her husband!!! She was serious! It was pretty funny.

I interrupted a librarian once when I overheard a man ask if they carried the BIG LOVE series. She replied, "oh, the show about mormons?"

I corrected right then.

Kami said...

You know what word I think is fun to say?!

plygs.

oh yeah, and I like to say 'the sev' too, but only when I want a Coke Slurpee. ;)

You Tell'em C!

Lisa said...

I am MARRIED to Christopher Layton! The 1972 version.

People believe what they want to believe--crazy and misinformed (which is ironic, because a lot of people think that about us Mormons), but when it comes to Big Love/Wal-Mart siting misrepresentations, I generally let my hair speak for itself.

thorney said...

I love this post.

When my husband and I were in graduate school we lived in married student housing and had quite a few neighbors with multple wives and hoards of children, and they weren't Mormon. I always found it odd that no one questioned them about the 3 or 4 wives, or talked about them behind their backs, or found them odd. It was oddly acceptable and oh so sweet.

To this day I don't understand why only Mormons are ridiculed for it.

I do watch Big Love, but do have to get something out of the kitchen when it gets uncomfortable :)

I refer to my husband's laptop and now ipad as my sister wives.

lisa said...

I like the game but I think my line probably goes back to the people in Illinois and Missouri who ran y'all out. I think they're probably all turning over in their graves that their posterity changed sides.

Also, had to have the Big Love/ polygamy discussion on a public bus in New Zealand last August. The lady just wouldn't quit. Bless the sweet, older lady sitting next to me for not spitting on me as she left.

Rocky Mountain Woman said...

Ok, I've been reading your blog for a little while (love it) and I just had to jump in here and tell a story. I'm not Mormon, but I live in Utah and of course I have a lot of friends who are Mormon. I was dating a federal court Judge for a little while and one time when I was back east visiting him, he took me to lunch with all the other Judges at a fancy restaurant. Now these people knew that I wasn't Mormon, but just because I lived in Utah I got all of the same dumb jokes. So, I have to say, I feel your pain... These folks were intelligent, well read educated people and the only thing they seemed to know about Utah was polygamy..Sheesh..

L3 said...

I am card-carrying (ie Temple Recommend) LDS, living in Provo, working at BYU. I've read "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop, and let me tell you, IT IS THE SCARIEST BOOK YOU'LL EVER READ. I am horrified by the Warren Jeffs group. Made my blood run cold. I can hardly joke about plygs anymore, after reading it!

Glennie9654 said...

I love readding, and thanks for your artical.........................................

Nan said...

Growing up the best place to see polygamists was Lagoon. It was always a real treat to see an ugly old man with his arm around two young, equally homely women. We used to dress up like polygamist for school dances just for fun. That was before Oprah and Big Love made polygamists cool again.

Jillybean said...

My great grandfather had two wives.
Several years ago we were attending a family baby blessing when I found out that my husband's step brother's wife's cousin had the same last name as me!
I jokingly asked her if she was from the first wife or the second (I'm from the second)
She said that she was from the first wife, and we discovered that we were really cousins!
The bad part was that I discovered that the decendants of the first wife are still really bitter that Great Grandpa chose to stay with the second wife after polygamy was outlawed.
It turned into a very awkward situation.

christian@dontdodumbthings.com said...

Hey Azucar, I replied to your comment on my family blog (christianandrebecca.blogspot.com), but didn't know if you'd see it there. Anyway, thanks for the great info about Provo, and I actually agree. I love Provo and the wife is coming around.

As far as polygamy, I had a non-Mormon lady bring up Big Love with me just yesterday. Stupid Big Love.

Funny blog, btw. You're a great writer.

Tamsin said...

Does anyone else find the term "plyg" or "polyg" or however you want to spell it just a tad disrespectful and demeaning? No? Oh well, carry on.

L. said...

I feel your pain.....but it could be worse, SO much worse.

I'm Catholic, so I have to listen to jokes about priests molesting little kids. :(

Kim said...

I was 16 when we moved to Utah. When I told one of my teachers where we were moving he said, "Oh no, you'll have to live with all the Mormons". I realized he had no idea I was one, so I played along. I said, "really?? What are they like?" He said, "Well, they all have lots of wives" (seriously, this was my Debate Coach, you'd think he'd be up on current events and such). I again played innocent and said, "really??" "Oh yeah, you better be careful". At that point I couldn't hold it in any longer and I said, "Well, I never realized that was a requirement for being a Mormon, I'll have to tell my Dad he needs to find another wife now."
It shut him up really fast.

I am with you. I hate explaining it and am sick of it. My pioneer ancestors go back as far as my folks, so I don't even have any polygamy in my family...as far as I know...so it just gets even more tiring that way.

Ok, now that I've written a novel...

Great post lady :)

Erin said...

Hailey, I also have a favorite family photograph in prison uniforms. Mine is William Jordan Flake, and he was so proud of being in prison for polygamy he would wear his prison uniform in parades and stuff. I know there are probably a lot of photographs like that, but on the off chance we're cousins, I thought I'd throw that out.

Awesome post. I love talking about polygamist ancestors. (My husband and I may or may not be distantly related due to some of that . . .)

Jane of Seagull Fountain said...

I don't know. I can't dismiss it so lightheartedly. I mean, we disowned the practice, yes, but never the doctrine. -- the doctrine as an eternal principle. That's what gets me.

Things like the blacks not being able to hold the priesthood doesn't bother me, because it was clearly a "wrong" that had to be righted, and was, and clearly won't be the case in the eternities.

I don't think the same can be said of polygamy, so it's not something I can even get upset about when outsiders misunderstand, because -- Joseph and Brigham and all those men -- they're still sealed, eternally, to all those women. Right?

So while I feel incredibly lucky and blessed that we're not required to live it right now, and that my stake president promised me, before I agreed to get sealed in the temple, that I wouldn't be opening myself up to ever agreeing to such a thing (now or later), it is something we still believe was divinely inspired.

And that's the part that bothers me. Why would God think polygamy is something that could make women (and men?) happy? And isn't that the basis of our whole faith -- that God's plan of happiness is for us to be happy?

BowlerGirl said...

Azucar, I totally told people in NJ ALL the time that I was looking for a second wife for El Senor...just to make sure the laundry and toilets stayed clean. I'm pretty sure they didn't realize how sarcastic I was being.

Now that we are living closer to the LDS mother-ship we see polygamists every time we travel o St. George. When we were in the good ol' DI last week El Senor whispered to me....."I just saw my first polygamist!" Living close to ST. George while growing up had apparently inured me to even noticing I was standing in line with a bunch of sister wives.

Summer said...

Loved this post. Spot on!

This has nothing to do with polygamy, but still funny. My husband and I lived in CA for a few years, in a townhouse with lots of neighbors, and LOTS of kids.
We had the missionaries over for dinner one night, and as they came to our door, a little 8 year old neighbor girl ran screaming into her apt, "Oh no! The Morfins are coming!"
That pretty much made our year. :)

Joyce said...

I don't know if it's catching on but a 56 yo man in my small town with no connections to anything Mormon picked up a 22 yo girlfriend and had a promise ceremony with her. Her mother is livid, his wife is sick about it and I'm grossed out. It really victimizes the women.

myimaginaryblog said...

I'm not even going to read the Polygamy Game comments 'cause I should be getting to bed soon; I'm commenting because your description of explaining polygamy reminded me of a similarly off-the-wall conversation with an old lady on a bus when I was a missionary in Belgium. She asked me how long my mission would be. I told her that I'd be heading home in a few more months, I would be heading home. She said, "Oh, you think so, do you?" She was just positive that they were going to keep me there for life. I tried to assure her that I really would be heading back home, but she thought she knew better.

myimaginaryblog said...

Uh, some uncareful editing made one of those sentences repetitive. (I so wish comments were editable.)

Michelle said...

I loved this post! Living in El Paso my husband is ALWAYS running into cousins. It seems that it's harder to run away from it out here because everyone knows that there are the old remnants of polygamy just over the border in the Mexican colonies. And by the way it was the Mormons that taught the Mennonites how to make cheese- this is a sensitive issue and rightly so especially for the family that I married into. Awesome post.

Tina said...

BUT your founder, Joseph Smith, DID advocate THE PRINCIPLE! Seems mighty convenient that God changed his mind when the legal heat was on. You do plan on practicing polygamy in the Celestial Kingdom, right? BTW - two of my closest friends are LDS and I love them like sisters. I get BIG LOVE dvd's from Netflix and I like the show.

Camels East said...

I live in the Mid-Atlantic... we get the weird looks every time I tell people we're Mormon. It's not a matter of misinformation the majority of the time. It's just that a lot of people don't know who we are.

I told my boy that the next time someone makes a comment in school, all he had to say is, "I'm Christian, like you. I'm just trying to be like Jesus, like you."

Azúcar said...

Tina, I never said he didn't. He did practice. It's not entirely clear what will happen in the world to come. Do I think that the people who were polygamous will still be together? Probably. Do I think that anyone will be polygamous then that wasn't in this life? I doubt it. Then again, it's speculation, we don't know.

Polygamy ended because it was supposed to, as a lot of practices end when they're supposed to; it fulfilled its purpose. That's the great thing about being part of a living gospel: teachings change, they evolve, and that's cool.

stacey said...

Oh the polygamy thing. It is hard for me to wrap my brain around. I figure what I need to know and perfectly understand I will in the next world. Right now, my pea brain isn't supposed to know/understand it fully, so I accept what I do understand and I'll work on the rest later.

But I sure do love playing "Spot the Polyg" when we're driving through Southern Utah! My husband was so bummed that he missed the polyg kids playing in the field. Crazy part, he managed to spot an entire herd of deer hidden in the fields behind the polyg house but missed the polyg kids in the PURPLE dresses. Hilarious!

It's funny, my husband's GG-gpa wasn't a polyg but had multiple wives, and came west and helped settle Cache Valley. If we meet someone here with our last name, we're related. We still get to play the "which wife?" game even without polygamy!

C said...

WOW!! What an awesome post, Azúcar!! Thank you for clarifying some important details! :) I can't say I know many Mormons in my part of Canada. I live on a little island! I have made some friends who are Mormon in my travels abroad though. When I was teaching overseas, some of the only other English speaking people I met were Mormon!! It was refreshing to meet other English speakers! Anyway, they taught me a lot about their faith and their practices, but never once did the issue of polygamy arise.

I guess it's because it never occurred to me! The only reason I ever heard such a thing was from the show "Big Love".

Thanks for sharing this post with us! XOXOX

TX Girl said...

We live in Dallas and the Mormon community has descended on a small Presbyterian preschool. (We also all go to the same pediatrician.) Last year when the infamous Big Love episode aired I had a girlfriend stomp her little heart over to the Mormons to get some clarification. She was acting as some kind of ambassador for all of her Big Love loving friends. It cracked me up how QUICKLY my girlfriends disappeared and left little old me to answer her burning questions. It was shockingly easy and we had a great discussion. Now if only it had gone as well when we lived in NOLA.

I'm a descendant of Heber C. It is funny how quickly I point out that my stock comes from the 1st wife- **wink, wink** like the other wives aren't as cool. I don't really think that, but somehow i think it gives me a little more credibilty. Clearly I have issues.

Mrs JP Chaos said...

I like your explanation. (I happened to see your response to one of the commenters and I really like the way you handled that as well.)

No matter what my feelings are with regards to polygamy, my family happens to be from a 4th wife. So? It is what it is.

But still...had to comment. I really like how you did this.

Rachael said...

great post. I grew up (and still live) in the Midwest and I heard this All. The. Time. Seriously. I was livid when I heard about Big Love.

The doctrine of polygamy in the hereafter is one of those things that I just try not to worry about for now. Do I like the idea? Not particularly. But there are a lot of things that I don't understand perfectly, and I think that's one of them, and I'm not going to worry about it now (although some days about 5 o'clock I do think it would be awesome to have a sister-wife to run herd on the little rascals).

And playing the Brigham Young game--can I get any descendants of Clarissa Decker Young?